Dalton v. Dalton

Decision Date11 July 2000
Docket NumberNo. 26636.,26636.
Citation207 W.Va. 551,534 S.E.2d 747
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court
PartiesIda L. DALTON, Plaintiff/Respondent Below, Appellant, v. Delbert H. DALTON, Defendant/Petitioner Below, Appellee.

Mark D. Panepinto, Esq., Panepinto Law Offices, Wheeling, West Virginia, Attorney for the Appellant.

J. Douglas Crane, Esq., J. Douglas Crane, L.C., Morgantown, West Virginia, Attorney for the Appellee.

MAYNARD, Chief Justice:

This is an appeal from a February 11, 1999 final order of the Circuit Court of Barbour County which resolved alleged arrearages in child support and alimony. In this appeal, the appellant, Ida L. Dalton, alleges that the circuit court erred in adopting the family law master's legal conclusion that when "the obligor of child support is living in the same household as the support obligee and the object of the support obligation, there tend [sic] to be a presumption that the obligor's income has gone to the support of the child and all the credits met." We agree with the appellant.

I. FACTS

Ida L. Dalton, the appellant, and Delbert H. Dalton, the appellee, were married on September 27, 1979, and a child was born to their marriage on June 9, 1980. The parties entered into a separation agreement bearing the date of November 3, 1988. They were granted a divorce by order of the Circuit Court of Barbour County on January 30, 1989. The circuit court's order approved and incorporated the parties' separation agreement. The final order provided, inter alia, that the appellant was awarded care, custody, and control of the couple's minor child, and the appellee was ordered to pay child support of $225.00 per month and $100.00 per month in spousal support.1 These support payments were ordered to begin as of November 5, 1988. The child support payments were to continue until the child attained the age of eighteen years. The spousal support payments were to continue until the child attained the age of eighteen years or the wife sooner remarried.

After the parties were divorced, the appellee continued to reside in the same house as the appellant and their minor child for approximately the next eight years.2 The nature of the parties' relationship during this period is a matter of great dispute. In the final hearing before the family law master, the appellee testified that he and the appellant continued to live as if they were husband and wife. According to the appellee, they purchased personal property together, maintained joint credit card accounts, and continued to have sexual relations. Further, the appellee testified that he helped in the support of the appellant and their son.3

The appellant, on the other hand, testified that she allowed the appellee to continue to live in the house for the benefit of their son. According to the appellant, the terms of the cohabitation were that the appellee maintained a separate social life and separate friendships and paid his own living expenses. She also testified that the parties did not have sexual relations during their cohabitation. The appellant stated further that the appellee did not assist her in paying the bills and made no offer to pay child support or alimony. Finally, the appellant declared that the appellee was rarely at home and instead spent most of his time with a girlfriend and other friends.

In the Fall of 1997, the appellant commenced collection proceedings against the appellee for arrearages in both child and spousal support.4 In November 1997, the appellee received notice from the Office of the Monongalia County Child Support Enforcement Division ("CSED")5 that the sum of $325.00 would be withheld from the appellee's wages per month as current child and spousal support. The appellee was also informed that he owed the sum of $52,675.91 in child support arrearages for which there would be additional withholdings from his wages.6 Also contained in the record is an amended "Order/Notice To Withhold Income For Child Support," received by the Circuit Court of Barbour County on July 21, 1998, which states that $506.25 is to be withheld from the appellee's monthly income. The sum of $406.25 was designated as past due support for arrears of 12 weeks or greater.

On January 26, 1998, the appellee filed a Petition For Modification in the Circuit Court of Barbour County in which he requested a reduction of child support, a termination of spousal support, and the termination of arrearages of child support. The appellee stated that he is not responsible for any back child support because he has lived with and fully supported his child from the date of the child's birth through August 1997. In her Reply To Petition For Modification, dated April 10, 1998, the appellant responded that whereas the appellee lived in the home provided for their child after the divorce, it was she who financially supported the child and herself. The appellant requested, in part, that she be awarded a judgment for the arrearage of child support and alimony through January 1998, including interest. The appellant further requested that the appellee's child support obligation be recalculated for the time period from February 1, 1998 through June 1, 1998, at which time it should terminate as the parties' son will have attained the age of 18 years and graduated from high school.7

After hearings on the matter, the family law master entered a recommended order in which he found in pertinent part:

2. That it is generally presumed that the person that pays child support by cash and does not get a receipt is out of luck and will not get a credit unless the recipient of that child support is honest enough to acknowledge it.
3. That it is also generally presumed that if the obligor of child support is living in the same household as the support obligee and the object of the support obligation, there tend [sic] to be a presumption that the obligor's income has gone to the support of the child and all the credits met.
4. That the [Appellee] testified that he gave cash and money to the Plaintiff in satisfaction of his support obligation while they were living together. It is substantiated by the fact that he did not have a checking account prior to the divorce nor one after the divorce and that he was not the financial manager of his own finances.
5. That the parties continued to acquire assets together and sign joint debts, all of which leaves [sic] that the Plaintiff failed to meet the burden of proof that there was no support during the time that the parties lived together.
6. That the [Appellant] admits that the [Appellee] did a number of things with the minor child and did not ask for [sic] her for any money to do that.
7. That there are instances to suggest that the parties even after the divorce had financial obligations together.
* * *
11. That the parties' living together under the same roof was a satisfaction of the support order for both child support and alimony during those times that they were living together, which was essentially from the time of the entry of the divorce decree until the last day of August 1997 for child support and until the last day of November 1996 for alimony.

As a result of these findings, the family law master granted a decretal judgment against the appellee in the amount of $2,250.00 through August 1998 for accrued child support and a decretal judgment in the amount of $1,300.00 through August 1998 for accrued alimony.8 Further, the family law master ordered that the appellee's alimony obligation is satisfied as of December 31, 1997, and the appellee is not responsible for any alimony obligation for 1998. However, the alimony issue was left open for possible future modification. Finally, the family law master ordered that the appellee should pay the appellant $200.00 per month for child support until the parties' child reaches the age of 18.

The appellant petitioned for review of the family law master's recommended order in the Circuit Court of Barbour County. By order of February 11, 1999, the circuit court denied the appellant's petition for review and adopted the findings of fact and conclusions of law of the recommended order.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court has held that in reviewing "challenges to findings made by a family law master that also were adopted by a circuit court, a three-pronged standard of review is applied." Syllabus Point 1, in part, Burnside v. Burnside, 194 W.Va. 263, 460 S.E.2d 264 (1995). "This Court reviews the circuit court's final order and ultimate disposition under an abuse of discretion standard. We review challenges to findings of fact under a clearly erroneous standard; conclusions of law are reviewed de novo." Syllabus Point 4, Burgess v. Porterfield, 196 W.Va. 178, 469 S.E.2d 114 (1996). This Court has also stated that "[i]n a divorce suit the finding of fact of a trial chancellor based on conflicting evidence will not be disturbed on appeal unless it is clearly wrong or against the preponderance of the evidence." Syllabus Point 3, Taylor v. Taylor, 128 W.Va. 198, 36 S.E.2d 601 (1945). We have further explained:

A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support the finding, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. However, a reviewing court may not overturn a finding simply because it would have decided the case differently, and it must affirm a finding if the circuit court's account of the evidence is plausible in light of the record viewed in its entirety.

Syllabus Point 1, in part, In Interest of Tiffany Marie S., 196 W.Va. 223, 470 S.E.2d 177 (1996). With these standards to guide us, we now proceed to review the issue raised by the appellant.

III. DISCUSSION

The sole assignment of error raised by the appellant is that the circuit court erred in finding that the parties' continued cohabitation was a satisfaction of the support order for...

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8 cases
  • Helgestad v. Vargas
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • 18 Noviembre 2014
    ...discharged his support obligation during the period of cohabition, and was thus eligible for “support credits”] and Dalton v. Dalton (2000) 207 W.Va. 551, 559, 534 S.E.2d 747 [“Any monetary contribution made by the obligor former spouse to the obligee former spouse for the support of the ob......
  • Helgestad v. Vargas
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • 18 Noviembre 2014
    ...his support obligation during the period of cohabitation, and was thus eligible for “support credits”] and Dalton v. Dalton (2000) 207 W.Va. 551, 559, 534 S.E.2d 747, 755 [“Any monetary contribution made by the obligor former spouse to the obligee former spouse for the support of the oblige......
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    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
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    ...during the period that he cohabitated with his former wife and their child. Id. at 730, 621 N.E.2d 1229. In Dalton v. Dalton, 207 W.Va. 551, 560, 534 S.E.2d 747 (2000), the parties were married, had a child, and divorced. The Husband was ordered by the court to pay $225 per month in child s......
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    ...Roop v. Buchanan , 999 N.E.2d 457, 462 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013).32 Miller v. Miller , 29 Or.App. 723, 565 P.2d 382, 385 (1977).33 207 W. Va. 551, 534 S.E.2d 747 (2000) (quoting Syl. Pt. 1, in part, Griffis v. Griffis , 202 W. Va. 203, 503 S.E.2d 516 (1998) ).34 Syl. Pt. 5, State v. General Dani......
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